Wednesday, August 30, 2017

INSURGENTS: the emotional side of indie publishing

How dare I write a post about indie versus traditional publishing, when I'm only on the brink of releasing my first-ever indie book? Well... over the summer I've discovered a big difference. It has to do with how emotionally invested one is in the book.

See, the publication timeline for a writer who already has a contract with a traditional publisher goes like this:

Day 1 - Send in reasonably proofread MS for Book One
Day 2 - Start Book Two
Day 30 - Editor calls to discuss a "few little changes" to Book One
Day 31 - Sulk. Pout. Tell your best friend that evidently the only thing the editor liked about the book was the page numbers.
Day 32 - Pour a large cup of coffee and get on with the revisions, except the thing in Chapter 14 that you really really hate and have quietly decided not to do
Day 33 - Set the revised Book One aside for two weeks, because you've learned that if you scoot it right back the editor won't believe you actually did the revisions. Resume writing Book Two.
Day 47 - Send in the revised MS of Book One with a note claiming you did all the revisions. Hope editor is too busy to check on that thing in Chapter 14. Continue writing Book Two.
Day 200 - Finish Book Two. Put it aside for proofreading in a couple of weeks.
Days 201-203 - Go wild, dance in the streets, rot your mind with a sappy movie.
Day 204 - Start Book Three
Day 250 - Editor sends copy of completed cover, into which you have had no input, for Book One. The cover seems to bear little or no relation to any of the characters, settings, or events in Book One, but then it's a long time since you've read it.
Day 350 - Book One is published! (sound of rose petal wafting down into Grand Canyon)
Day 365 - Your copies of Book One arrive. By now you feel that Book One isn't the striking work of genius you once believed it to be. Stack copies of Book One in back bedroom and get on with the new love of your life, Book Three.

A few times around this cycle and you realize you will never get excited at publication time, because by then you've practically forgotten Book One and are emotionally invested in the book you're writing now.

Now, apart from the fact that I write a lot faster now that I'm not dealing with a publisher who expects one book a year, here's what my publishing schedule for indie looks like:

Day 1 - send proofread MS of Insurgents, blurb, and back cover copy to the nice man who's going to do the cover art and formatting, with some notes on your vision of the cover
Day 2 - start Awakening
Day 14 - Artist sends sketch for Insurgents cover. Bounce preliminary sketch back and forth a few times until you're both satisfied with it.
Day 20 - Receive e-formatted version of Insurgents and put it on your Kindle for proofreading.
Day 21 - Realize that your previous proofreading was not perfect. Ask for half a dozen changes.
Day 28 - Agree on final version of cover.
Day 29 - Start Pinterest board for Insurgents
Day 40 - Finish Awakening
Day 41 - Receive corrected e-book of Insurgents
Day 42 - Proofread Insurgents again.
Day 43 - Start Survivors
Day 48 - Decide to release Insurgents in ten days, because you suspect just before Labor Day isn't a good time for it
Day 49 - Read through Insurgents yet again, this time looking for good lines you can excerpt and put on your Pinterest board for Book One, or ideas for pictures you can use there.
Day 55 - Upload Createspace and Kindle versions of Insurgents to Amazon
Day 58 (maybe) Book goes live on Amazon! (sound of rose petal wafting down into Grand Canyon)

The big difference to me is that the time elapsed is much less and I am doing stuff with Book One throughout the process, so when it comes time to upload and release Book One is still one of my darling children.

Full disclosure: the indie schedule is semi-fictional, because what really happened was I wrote Awakening first, realized it should not be the first in the Harmony series, then wrote Insurgents and sent both of them off together for cover art/formatting. The above is my guess about what it would have looked like if I'd written the first book first.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Glorious embroidery

While avoiding work recently I came across this wonderful site of work by Gordana Brelih. There's much more to browse at the site, but I was particularly taken by this piece because it exemplifies something I'd like to achieve in my own work: faces that are recognizable but neither realistic nor cartoonish. Plus, of course, the balance between empty space and lush ornamentation, the color scheme and everything else that makes this a work of art.

And by the way, yes, I do know the blog lists in the right sidebar are screwed up. Every time I've tried to fix them this morning Blogger has told me, "You can't do that!" I'll try again another day.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Eve of Crécy

On August 26, 1346, Edward III of England and Philip VI of France fought a battle near Crécy in northern France. Edward was seriously outnumbered, but he had the superior weapon: the English longbow, with which a skilled archer could shoot nine arrows while the opposing crossbowman was lucky to get five bolts off.

And yes, I know this is the 25th, not the 26th. This is my excuse to post a poem by William Morris that is romantic, sentimental, would probably never make the anthologies today....but I like it. And the speaker in the poem is an impoverished French knight hoping that the battle to come will repair his fortunes.

The Eve of Crécy
By William Morris

Gold on her head, and gold on her feet,
And gold where the hems of her kirtle meet,
And a golden girdle round my sweet;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Margaret's maids are fair to see,
Freshly dress'd and pleasantly;
Margaret's hair falls down to her knee;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

If I were rich I would kiss her feet;
I would kiss the place where the gold hems meet,
And the golden kirtle round my sweet:
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Ah me! I have never touch'd her hand;
When the arrière-ban goes through the land,
Six basnets under my pennon stand;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

And many an one grins under his hood:
Sir Lambert du Bois, with all his men good,
Has neither food nor firewood;
Ah! qu'elle est belle la Marguerite.

If I were rich I would kiss her feet,
And the golden girdle of my sweet,
And thereabouts where the gold hems meet;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Yet even now it is good to think,
While my few poor varlets grumble and drink
In my desolate hall, where the fires sink,--
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite,--

Of Margaret sitting glorious there,
In glory of gold and glory of hair,
And glory of glorious face most fair;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Likewise to-night I make good cheer,
Because this battle draweth near:
For what have I to lose or fear?
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

For, look you, my horse is good to prance
A right fair measure in this war-dance,
Before the eyes of Philip of France;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

And sometime it may hap, perdie,
While my new towers stand up three and three,
And my hall gets painted fair to see--
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite--

That folks may say: Times change, by the rood,
For Lambert, banneret of the wood,
Has heaps of food and firewood;
Ah! qu'elle est belle La Marguerite.

Poor Sir Lambert: Edward won.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Turn the page already!

A very literate and intelligent friend who is not a professional writer recently sent me a proposed opening to a novel set in the early nineteenth century. It probably would have been a fine opening in the nineteenth century, when longer was better and readers were willing to start out with huge globs of family history. But it won't fly now.

An “explanation” followed:

"I figure the first chapter is to lay the groundwork for why these characters are all improbably in X’s estate …."

No, no, NO! That’s NOT what the first chapter is for. The first chapter is for engaging your reader’s interest, because if you don’t do that, they’ll never see the second chapter!

And the job of the opening page is to get your reader to turn that page, which is what I’m going to be discussing today.

I don't claim to be the world’s expert on openings; I've got enough published books out there where I later realized the story really started in Chapter 3. Or in Chapter -1, which I didn’t even write. And I usually spend hours staring at my current WIP and wondering why anybody would care enough about the first page to look at the second page.

Fortunately there are lots of good examples to learn from. Consider these three very different openings, from books of three different genres:

Russ Van Alstyne had just gotten a tug on his line when he saw the old lady get up from between the headstones she had been trimming, lay down her gardening tools, and walk into the reservoir. She had been tidying up a tiny plot, four moldering grave markers tucked under the towering black pines, so close to the edge of Stewart’s Pond Reservoir that a good motorboat wake could have kicked spray over the stones. She had appeared at some point after he and Shaun had launched their rowboat, and he had noted her, now and then, while they had drifted in the sunshine.

That’s the start of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Out of the Deep I Cry. Granted, mystery writers have a built-in advantage with openings; all they have to do is move some violence to the front. To play fair, I eliminated books that begin with somebody getting shot or waking up tied hand and foot in a scary location. You couldn’t exactly call someone voluntarily walking into a reservoir violence, could you? But it sure captures my attention. Yes, I want to know who she is and why she did it. But what makes me want to read on is: Does Russ fish her out of the reservoir before she drowns?

The author of this next one has a somewhat more challenging problem:

"All right, add your luggage to the pile, including all comms, computers, or recording equipment, and check in so we know who is or isn't here . . ." The man at the desk finally glanced up and trailed off with his mouth open.
"Paer. Medic." Paer smiled hopefully. She'd deliberately dressed in field khakis, trying to look serious, and hopefully wouldn't be too underdressed for the occasion.
An organizational meeting for a camp across. Across, as through a trans-dimensional gate to a world on the other side. The young man got his mouth shut and looked down at his list. "Right." A bit breathless. Swallow. "I didn't realize they meant the Paer."
Paer winced. "Don't worry, I'm just a medic, now. Nothing special." Please just pretend I'm not the daughter of the President of the Empire of the One.

For a good time, try orienting the new reader while starting the Nth book in a long science fiction series: this is Pam Uphoff’s Surveillance. Look how much she’s telling us here:

Paer is going on a trip.
She’s probably a new hire, young, and a bit insecure, considering how she’s worried about being appropriately dressed.
Whee – the “trip” may involve trans-dimensional travel, whatever that is. To a “world on the other side.”
And this Paer is a VIP who really wants to blend in with her colleagues and not to be treated like a celebrity.

That’s a lot of information in 140 words. The line about “trans-dimensional travel” both gives us a cue that this is science fiction, and promises exotic worlds coming up. The fact that the other three bits of information are about Paer suggests that this is going to be a character-centered story, and her youth and insecurity suggest it may be a YA novel. What's the page-turner here? I've been promised that Paer's new job comes with both other-worldly travel and social pitfalls, and I want to see how that works out. A promise of interesting stuff ahead is as good as suspense for keeping a reader in the story.

Finally, a more leisurely opening – in fact, so leisurely that I’m cutting a whole paragraph about the hardships of the march through Europe. So this is just part of the first page:

We mutinied when we reached the ocean.

We’d been riding for fifty-one days, three companies of us with half a legion and two troops of Roman auxiliaries to guard us….

Then one afternoon, just before the middle of September, we were starting down from the hills when we saw it: the ocean. It had rained all that morning, but the rain had stopped about midday, and now the sky was clear. The clouds parted and let down a watery light westward beyond us, and we looked up and saw a huge gray plain turn suddenly and impossibly blue.

We had never seen the sea. We reined in our horses and stopped in the road, staring at it. The sun shimmered on the waves as far out as our eyes could see: no shadow of land darkened even the farthest limit of the horizon.

“It’s the end of the world!” whispered Arshak.

That’s from Gillian Bradshaw’s Island of Ghosts, a historical novel about some Sarmatians who were sent to Britain as auxiliaries to the Roman army. This little bit of military history is not exactly common knowledge, so she has to feed a lot of background information to readers (apart from the First Reader, who knows, dammit, absolutely everything connected with military history.) The trick is to do it in small bits. When I started reading I had never even heard of Sarmatians, but that wasn't important; she never even uses the name on this page. But by the bottom of the page I knew enough to be going on with. I knew that the narrator's guys were being commanded by Romans who didn’t trust them, and I surmised they were steppe nomads since they’d never seen the sea, and I knew for sure that it was going to be a job and a half getting them onto boats to cross the Channel. I wasn't about to stop reading until I found out how this impasse is resolved.

Now go forth and figure out why readers will turn the first page of your WIP, and be sure to put that page-turner in there if it's not there already.

Monday, August 21, 2017


On this day in 1968, America awoke to the news that Soviet tanks had rolled into Prague. It took nearly a week to crush Czech resistance, and during that week brave men and women - many of them students - operated hidden broadcasting stations from which they told the world what was happening. Many of the broadcasts were repeated in different languages. I will never forget hearing one station after another going off the air, some without warning, some with the broadcasters saying that the Russians were at the door.

I couldn't find recordings of any of those underground broadcasts, but I did find one of Radio Prague broadcasting while the battle was raging outside its doors.

And a note to the people who tweet with the hashtag #Resistance: THAT's resistance, you twerps.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Everyday it's a-gettin' closer...

Planning to release just after Labor day, and most of the ducks are in a row.

And I'm starting to get excited...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Nothing to do with books, but I'm claiming it's art... and what I need for energy on yet another muggy hundred-degree day in the long long string of such days. On this day in 1974 the Ramones played their first gig at CBGB's. They'd been performing for several months at other venues, and their debut album wasn't to come out for a couple of years. But I'm nominating this day as the opening shot in the fight to rescue rock from the then-current world of pretentious soft rock bands and - worse - disco, the plague of the seventies. Think about the Bee Gees and Abba and then clean your mind out with this!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pictures, and a kludge

I'm making a Pinterest board for Insurgents, and for the last hour I've been trying to upload some snapshots taken in Greece that show how I imagine life in the Esilian mountains where Gabrel and his guerrilla fighters operate. Uploading pictures from the computer is not working so well; the pins show up in the board preview and when clicked on, but on the board they show up as blank spaces. Everything except the picture of the donkey does this! Okay, the donkey's probably cuter than the snaps of stone houses and mountains, but I don't think this is a case of Pinterest exercising aesthetic discrimination. After staring at the pictures and picking them apart in Photoshop, I can't find anything (technical) the donkey has that the snapshot of Monemvasia doesn't have. So I'm kludging it. The pictures will be posted below, then I'll "pin" them from this blog to Pinterest.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Stealing from Bollywood

When I'm writing a book I have mental images of the characters (duh, obviously.) Now that I'm dealing directly with a cover artist it helps if I can find pictures to show the artist. In the case of Gabrel, the guerrilla leader in Insurgents (to be released next month), that was easy; I was already thinking of him as a very young Salman Khan. He was just 24 in his first starring role in Maine Pyar Kiya, in 1989. (Yep, I've been a fan of Bollywood musicals for a long time.)

Gabrel is 23 during most of Insurgents, lying about his age because he's fallen for an "older woman" of 28, and I picture him in the mountains, making trouble for the invading army and looking just about as scruffy as Salman Khan does in this picture.

If my attempt to embed the video works, here he is singing "Dil Deewana" (My Crazy Heart) from that movie. (Okay, okay, somebody else is doing the actual singing. Salman Khan is doing the leaping around and dancing part.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

The book in your head

It's been almost two weeks since I finished the first draft of Survivors. Writing this book has been an emotional journey of ups and downs. Starting with "The background (a society in collapse) is too dark, I don't want to write a dystopia, I'm going to pull back from the depressing stuff." This was succeeded by, "[Expletive], I can't avoid the darkest scenes: the book demands them." Which in turn was followed by "OMG this book is going to be totally depressing, nobody will read it." After which I galloped to the end and suddenly felt that the book wasn't bad. Not bad at all. In fact, pretty good.

I do know that these assessments have a lot to do with my mood and pacing. There were some scenes I felt were necessary but I hated writing them, and afterwards I would be down on the book as a whole. Getting to the end of the first draft - and discovering a good line to close on - was almost as exhilarating as being shot at and missed. But I seldom feel quite as satisfied as this. Usually the joy of completion is tempered by an awareness of problems that are not fatal, but annoying, and that are baked into the structure in such a way that they can't be completely fixed by editing.

But this time, for whatever reason, I've been floating around feeling ridiculously self-satisfied for two whole weeks.

Which is not necessarily a good thing.

For one thing, it's made me hyper-critical of the fantasy novel I'm plotting, so I don't want to work on it.

For another, it's caused me to procrastinate on the first proofreading, because when I do that I'll have to accept the reality of an imperfect book rather than the glowing image in my head.

Time to bite the bullet. I'm going to proof the first draft today, and in the process I will almost certainly be reminded that the book I actually wrote is not as good as the book in my head.

It never is. That's something you have to accept. Accept and move on.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
My Blogger TricksAll Blogger TricksLatest Tips and Tricks